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Funds have different ways of assessing need for fire victims
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ The Station nightclub fire left survivors with devastating injuries, families without providers and children without parents.

The Feb. 20 fire that killed 100 people and injured nearly 200 others also left those who collected donations with the task of weighing the needs of those affected and parceling out aid.

The three major funds distributing money have relied on different in-house assessments of an applicantÔŅĹs needs.

The Kent County Fire Victims Fund, which benefits only Kent County residents and has distributed $55,510 so far, uses a "matrix" to measure the needs of those seeking aid. The calculus included whether the family had suffered a death or long-term hospitalization, the number of children affected, and whether the family received other forms of aid, said Thomas V. Iannitti, director of senior services and human services in West Warwick.

The Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund, which has distributed $1.6 million, is using case workers to assess needs of survivors and victimsÔŅĹ families, said Rick Schwartz, spokesman for the Rhode Island Foundation, which oversees the fund.

Jody King, vice president of The Station Family Fund, said his organization is relying on personal relationships to those asking for help. The group, made up of survivors and victimsÔŅĹ families, has distributed $29,279.

"Somebody within that nonprofit will know who somebody (applying for help) is. ThatÔŅĹs how itÔŅĹs easier for us," said King, whose brother, Tracy, was killed in the West Warwick blaze.

The differing methods of assessing need could be problematic, according to the Chicago-based American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog.

"The major players, if they havenÔŅĹt, should be sitting down together and forming a combined database," said institute president Daniel Borochoff.

Schwartz said officials from The Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund and The Station Family Fund discussed a centralized system for evaluating need.

It didnÔŅĹt come to pass.

But both funds said they have ways to guard against double-dipping.

By paying bills for mortgages or mental health care directly, rather than giving money to survivors and victimsÔŅĹ families, The Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund ensures the money is going where its supposed to, Schwartz said.

"To some extent, the responsibility of us in philanthropy is to make sure the money is spent properly and to let people know," Schwartz said.

The Station Family Fund has taken a similar approach, King said, paying utility or rent bills directly and taking families shopping for school clothes and food.

On one level, Schwartz said, itÔŅĹs a matter of protecting the victims of tragedies to come. People will donate in the future if they feel their money was handled properly in the past.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, donations for victimsÔŅĹ families and survivors poured in and many charities joined to form a centralized database.

Those affected by the terrorist attacks are also eligible for financial help through the federal Victims Compensation Fund.

The fund, signed into law Sept. 24, 2001, by President Bush, was created by Congress to protect airlines and other entities from lawsuits in the wake of the attacks that killed about 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. People who accept awards give up their right to sue.

The average payment to families of those who died in the attacks is just over $1.5 million, while individual awards have ranged from $250,000 to $6.1 million. Payments to the injured have ranged from $500 to $6.8 million.

The awards are based on a victimÔŅĹs projected lifetime income and other factors such as number of children. Money from sources such as life insurance is subtracted.

In the days after the fire, there was talk of a government compensation fund in Rhode Island, but it never gained momentum.

"Those talks never reached the status of serious discussions about that idea," said Jeff Neal, Gov. Don CarcieriÔŅĹs spokesman. "The governor recognized at first blush that the 9/11 fund in New York ran into some serious difficulties ... There were issues with who qualified and how much money they received."

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